Bolling sees job creation as road to top job
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Bill Bolling likes being behind the wheel.
Maybe it's because his cream-colored Chevrolet Tahoe with the license plate "1 Lieutenant Governor," puts a little pressure on a driver when it comes to things like doing the speed limit and navigating traffic.
"You're in the wrong lane," Bolling warns longtime Chief of Staff Randy Marcus during a trip on Interstate 64 to a speaking engagement in Charlottesville, having reluctantly handed the keys to Marcus so he could chat freely during the ride.
"I don't want to end up in the front seat of that dump truck."
Or maybe the 53-year-old public servant and private insurance executive from Hanover County - in his second term as the second fiddle in Virginia's state government - just likes being in control of his own destination.
That might seem hard to do when you are a part-time No. 2. Unlike other states, Virginia's lieutenant governor, while separately elected, is not a full-time job. Traditionally, its duties and $36,321 salary have included presiding over the state Senate, sitting on a few boards and some committees and fulfilling B-list obligations the governor can't meet.
Lieutenant governor in Virginia usually is a way station to a run for governor. But a funny thing happened in 2008 when Bolling, first elected lieutenant governor in 2005, called then-Attorney General Bob McDonnell and told him that for personal and political reasons, he would not run for governor in 2009. Instead, he would support McDonnell for the top job and run for re-election.
The good friends, conservative Republican colleagues in the legislature for years, struck a deal. They run together, and they govern together.
"I don't want to be on the outside looking in," Bolling says, recalling the McDonnell conversation that took place at Bolling's office. "I want to be on the inside helping you lead Virginia."
Bolling, with the agreement of McDonnell, remade the lieutenant governor's job. McDonnell made Bolling part of his Cabinet and gave him a new title - chief jobs-creation officer. And true to that promise, "the governor has included me in just about everything that he's done," Bolling says.
It's a political partnership in which both men are invested.
"Our job-creation strategy will define our administration," says McDonnell, who considers Bolling's government and business background "ideally suited" to his current role - and who calls him "the man for the job" when McDonnell leaves the Executive Mansion.
The administration's success over the next two years in keeping or creating enough jobs to keep the state's unemployment level trending downward - from 7.2 percent when Bolling and McDonnell took office in January 2010, to 6.1 percent today - could well determine whether he gets the keys to the commonwealth in 2013.
"Obviously, he's bet the farm McDonnell will be successful in job creation," says Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia.
"There's really no way for a lieutenant governor to separate himself from the governor of his own party, but he's chosen to embrace it early on, and it looks like it's working out."
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On the surface, Bill Bolling is something of an improbable politician - an amiable and avuncular insurance man without perfect hair, physique or fancy packaging. He's a decidedly unslick lover of simple pleasures such as trout fishing, Saturday afternoon football games and comfort food.
"When I was growing up, we didn't have a lot, and it doesn't take a lot to make me happy," he says.
The father of two grown sons, Bolling has been married to his college sweetheart, Jean Ann, for 32 years. He teaches Sunday school. When he reads, he prefers mind-numbing spy thrillers. He likes sitting on the deck of his comfortable home in Mechanicsville and listening to the wind chimes at the family condo at Wintergreen.
Bolling cuts his own grass and spreads his own mulch. He drove his last car 225,000 miles and will cross the highway to save a penny per gallon on gas. He can also tell you if the convenience store at the gas station has good chicken wings or ice-cream sundaes. Like many Americans, he has a dusty treadmill in his garage and a stationary bike that doubles as a shirt rack.
"I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't cuss, I don't run around on my wife," Bolling told his doctor during one visit, when the doctor was pleased with everything but his girth.
"If I want to have a Twinkie, I'm going to have a Twinkie,'cause that's all I got."
While he won re-election as lieutenant governor in 2009 with 57 percent of the vote, Bolling still is less recognizable than McDonnell or the state's litigious and telegenic Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a fellow Republican and potential rival for the party's gubernatorial nomination in 2013.
"What do you do?" a man said to Bolling during a stop in Northern Virginia.
"I'm the lieutenant governor," Bolling replied.
"Of what?" the man asked. Bolling told him.
"We've got a lieutenant governor? That's so cool," the man said.
"You'd be surprised how often that happens," Bolling said.
But family, staff and fellow politicians say there is more to him than meets the eye.
"He's very determined," Jean Ann says. "Most people, I think, probably see him as laid-back, but he's quite intense and very focused on things. He's very particular - analytical."
Bolling jokes that he went through a number of legal pads weighing the pros and cons of whether he and his wife could afford to get married in 1978. But the same attention to detail also characterizes his public life.
"His follow-through is excellent and prompt - and that's what I want, and that's what Virginians want," said McDonnell, who has known Bolling for 20 years.
"I'm not the kind of guy who is going to go out and make strident statements for the purposes of whipping everybody into a frenzy," Bolling says. "I think people just want government to focus on getting things done."
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the once and future presidential candidate, forged a personal and political friendship with Bolling when Bolling ran his Virginia campaign during Romney's 2008 run for the Republican nomination.
"We both come from the private sector. He's spent his life in business as I have, and so he's kind of a make-it-happen guy," Romney said in a phone interview from Des Moines, Iowa.
"He's not big on talk that doesn't yield results. If you want to get something done, you ask Bill to do it," added Romney, who returned the favor by stumping for Bolling a half-dozen times in 2009.
"Whether it's getting my name on the ballot, which required thousands of signatures, or getting me support in corners of the state I hadn't had a chance to visit, Bill gets it done."
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William Troy Bolling's Virginia roots run deep, back to the New World.
Col. Robert Bolling, the first Bolling in America, married Jane Rolfe, the granddaughter of Pocahontas and John Rolfe, in 1674. Bolling is a descendant of that marriage, but his journey to becoming a political player in the capital city began in the coalfields of West Virginia.
Born in tiny Sistersville, Bolling grew up in a three-room mobile home on the banks of the Big Coal River, the only son of a surface miner with an eighth-grade education.
A crafty left-handed pitcher in high school, he had a rookie-league tryout with the New York Mets organization, thanks to a former coach who was a part-time professional baseball scout.
"I didn't have a lot of speed, but I had pretty good control and a natural curveball," he said.
But Bolling, his parents and his coach knew he was better off pursuing an education than a long-shot baseball dream, so he enrolled in West Virginia Tech after graduating from high school in 1975.
When his mother and father ran out of money the following spring, Bolling took a job in an insurance office in Whitesville, eventually got his license and attended school nights and weekends. He graduated in 1979 with a political science degree from Morris Harvey College, now known as the University of Charleston.
Bolling met Jean Ann Kincaid at a campus coffee shop.
"I chased her around. ¿ She said I stalked her," jokes Bolling. "Finally, I think she just gave up."
They married in 1978 and have two sons: Matthew, a 2006 graduate of Virginia Tech who works in information technology; and Kevin, 23, who graduated from James Madison University in 2010 and will head off this summer to begin a Mormon mission in Utah.
The Bollings moved to Mechanicsville in 1981 when Bill was offered a job in insurance that doubled his salary to $25,000. He had whetted his political appetite years earlier when, as a 15-year-old, he ran the Whitesville campaign office for the re-election bid of West Virginia Gov. Arch Moore, who was running against Democrat Jay Rockefeller.
"Had Rockefeller been elected (at that time), all of those West Virginia surface miners, including my dad, would have been out of a job," Bolling says. "That's where I learned to love the smell of bumper stickers in the fall."
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After arriving in the Richmond area, the Bollings became active in Shady Grove United Methodist Church. At a church men's group meeting in 1987, Bolling met then-Del. Frank D. Hargrove Sr., R-Hanover, who encouraged him to get involved in county politics.
With the county growing and transitioning from rural exurb to residential Richmond suburb, Bolling was elected to the Hanover County Board of Supervisors in 1991. In 1995, Gov. George Allen recruited him to run for the state Senate, and he defeated Democrat Elmo G. Cross Jr., a 20-year incumbent, to win the 4th District seat.
After 10 years in the state Senate, Bolling successfully ran for lieutenant governor in 2005, along with McDonnell, who was elected attorney general as Democrat Timothy M. Kaine beat Republican Jerry W. Kilgore for governor.
Kaine did not involve Bolling in his administration. But since Bolling's re-election in 2009 - when McDonnell regained the governorship for the Republicans - the lieutenant governor has wasted little time in laying the foundation for his own run.
He has put 32,000 miles on his Tahoe in the past year. He has participated in more than 130 events since January, in addition to presiding over the Senate for 43 days during the General Assembly session.
Bolling says the administration's work on job creation is paying off - with 463 deals closed and 64,900 net new jobs created, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
NASCAR and local economic development officials last summer credited Bolling with helping to secure the future of Sprint Cup racing in economically depressed Martinsville, helping to close a deal that guarantees five more years of two-race seasons at the speedway, in exchange for traffic improvements and marketing help.
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But it hasn't been all checkered flags for the governor and his chief jobs-creation officer.
In April, the administration announced that it had secured 539 new jobs in the hard-hit Henry County and Martinsville area with the opening later this year of an operations center by Fairfax-based ICF International, a company that provides professional and technological services in a variety of fields.
Then, last week, with apparently no notice to the McDonnell administration, Henry County's largest private employer, StarTek, announced that it would close its call center, eliminating 631 jobs.
Bolling called the announcement "a punch in the gut."
Democrats were quick to pounce.
"In press release after press release, Governor McDonnell and Lieutenant Governor Bolling take credit for jobs that companies have created since they took office," Brian Moran, chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, said after the StarTek announcement.
"When you make a habit of seeking political gain from every job created in the commonwealth, you should also make a habit of explaining yourself to people who lose theirs on your watch."
Bolling said Virginia has fared better than most states economically, especially in the critical area of unemployment, where Virginia has the ninth-lowest rate in the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"The bottom line is if things go well, you're going to get the credit," he said. "And if they don't go well, you're going to get the blame."
"We are at a stage in the economy now where there will be two steps forward and one step back," he said. "Fortunately for us, there are going to be a lot more good days than bad days."
The governor's race is still two years away, but with every road trip for jobs, Bolling knows he is logging miles toward his political future - speaking across the state at barbecues, graduations, business meetings and banquets - many times accompanied by Jean Ann, riding shotgun.
He typically spends one day at the Capitol and two to three days at his day job in Henrico County as a vice president for Riggs, Counselman, Michaels & Downes - a Baltimore-based private insurer - where he specializes in commercial property and casualty insurance. He usually spends the rest of his time on the road as chief jobs officer.
"I think we've accomplished a lot in restoring the financial foundation of the state - I think we've accomplished a lot in the area of economic development and job creation," Bolling says.
"Whatever the political future holds, the best argument that our party can make in 2013 is that we've done a good job governing Virginia," he adds.
Bolling's first political fundraiser, "Burgers with Bill" is in two weeks.
"You'll know I'm running when I lose 50 pounds," Bolling says. "Again."
Right now, Sabato says, Bolling is in a reasonably good position and is the clear front-runner to represent Republicans in the next race for governor, given his background and McDonnell's endorsement.
That could change, somewhat, he said, if a fellow Republican such as Cuccinelli decided to enter the fray. In a recent vaguely phrased solicitation, Cuccinelli sought financial support for his next campaign - but did not specify which job he might seek in 2013.
"We're good friends - he's an important part of our team," Bolling says of Cuccinelli, praising the attorney general's leadership in health-care and environmental-regulation lawsuits that challenged the federal government.
"He has said publicly and privately that he intends to seek re-election to the office of attorney general, and I know Ken to be a man of his word - and I take him at his word," Bolling adds. "I look forward to running with him in 2013."
When that time comes, Bill Bolling intends to be behind the wheel.
For additional information contact Ibbie Hedrick at 804-225-2487 or firstname.lastname@example.org.